I was running a course at Atsista Bay on Skyros, when I experienced just how powerful and life-changing the human desire to share our gifts can be.
As part of the holistic holiday centre’s activities, it was announced that there was to be a ‘pea fair’ that evening. Hardly any of us knew what one was, but we learned that we were all invited to set up stalls that provided some sort of gift or service. It would be a bit like a big car boot sale, although the purpose was not to make money. Everybody would be given fifteen chickpeas as a currency with which to purchase whatever was on offer. The concept sounded strange but interesting, and I was curious to see how the evening would pan out as the participants started planning what their personal contributions would be.
After supper, as the sun went down, we were keen to see what shape the fair would take, and we were stunned and touched when we saw what people had decided to provide. Especially when their only reward took the form of raw chickpeas – and the opportunity to give! There were people offering relaxation, offering to sing if you paid them (and then offering not to sing if you paid them more!), crystal healings, tarot readings, massage, cartooning, even a five-minute art lesson. One man was offering on-the-spot Haikus, a Japanese form of short poem, on a subject of your choosing. Another woman offered to play cupid, writing and delivering love letters. There was such a buzz as people gave so generously, offering things that were fun, beautiful, outrageous, naughty or simple.
Helen and I set up a stall too. We put up a sign on which we’d written ‘Complimentary Therapy, first one free, then two chickpeas each’. Many people were intrigued and some asked for their first treatment, even though they didn’t know what they would be getting! Helen or I would look at each person who came to our stall and find something that we could honestly, sincerely and uniquely appreciate about that person and compliment him or her about. We’d say something such as ‘your hair is really beautiful tonight’ or ‘that colour really suits you’, ‘you have a beautiful smile’ or ‘I’ve enjoyed being with you on this holiday’, and generally our customers would break into a huge grin. Amazingly, most of them would then pay us more chickpeas for more compliments! We had quite a queue at the stand at one point, as word got out about what we were offering.
Our therapy consisted of nothing more complicated than noticing and complimenting people on something about their appearance or personality. Yet it was such as source of joy both to be able to give people genuine compliments and to receive their gratitude in smiles (and chickpeas) in return. I went to bed that night inspired by the variety of people’s gifts and their generosity in sharing them for no ‘real’ reason.
The next day, everyone was full of gratitude for the evening. Over breakfast, we all remarked on how beautiful the fair had been, how incredible it was that people had so much to offer and how much we had all enjoyed giving and receiving. It seemed that for a couple of hours, people’s hearts and souls had opened wide and they had let the best of themselves pour forth.
It struck me that this was the best of community, with people giving, receiving, sharing, shining and appreciating. It struck me how much people want to give, to be seen and to contribute what they have to offer for no other reward than the joy of it. It reminded me a little of Patch Adams, the clown, doctor and author who was the subject of a film in which he was played by Robin Williams. Patch Adams has created a hospital based on love, community and laughter, and he told me that every week he gets hundreds of letters from doctors, nurses and other medical professionals offering to come to work at his hospital for free. People wanted to give their gifts in a spirit of love, service and appreciation.
That experience on Skyros reinforced my belief that what really makes us happy is finding, developing and sharing the unique gifts that we have been blessed with in our creation.
This story is from new book Pivotal Moments that was published on December 14th